Agenda item

Agenda item

Annual Air Quality Status Report

The Annual Air Quality Status Report is now a standing item on the Committee’s agenda. This is an opportunity for the Committee to note the report for 2019 and comment if it wishes.


Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford will be available to present the report, and Pedro Abreu, Air Quality Officer, will be able to answer technical questions.




 Cllr Tom Hayes gave a brief introduction to the report.  After a significant period of improving air quality, the rate of improvement was plateauing, contributed to, in part, by 3 months in 2019 of extreme weather conditions across the city. This underlined the importance of the steps proposed in the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) which had been  the subject of discussion at the previous meeting of the Committee and, in particular, the establishment  of a target for air quality improvement which was more stringent than that required by Government. A target which would be contributed by the  measures set out in the AQAP such as the introduction of a Zero Emissions Zone; the electrification of the Council’s vehicle fleet; encouraging the local bus and taxi trade to move towards the increasing use of electric vehicles etc.

In response to a question   Cllr Hayes agreed that the previous recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee in relation to the AQAP would be worked into future monitoring reports.

The Committee enquired about the contribution of weather conditions to the decline in air quality cited in the report, asking if it was likely to be a deep seated and ongoing issue as a consequence of climate change. Pedro Abreu, Air Quality Officer, confirmed that climate change was producing more extreme weather conditions than hitherto  and so it was likely to continue to be a factor from time to time. DEFRA had independently confirmed that the conclusions of the report were properly evidenced.

In subsequent discussion it the Committee  agreed that there would be no real merit in monitoring and recording detailed weather conditions to be read in parallel with the air quality data not least because of the natural variation of conditions which were sometimes beneficial and sometimes detrimental to air quality. Notwithstanding the Committee’s view  Cllr Hayes argued that there was still merit in providing relevant contextual factors when producing a public report.

The report’s reference to the Energy Superhub was thought to be in need of some clarification in relation to whether or not its spare capacity was to be fed back into the grid or used for high speed charging stations.  It was agreed that clarification would be provided to the Committee on this matter.

Cllr Hayes said it was difficult, at this point, to quantify the potential beneficial impact of the Superhub on air quality. This was because it was not known to what extent the “private wire” capability would be taken up by businesses, fleet operators et al. The Council would encourage all those who might benefit to do so  with a particular focus on the bus companies. The introduction of a significant number of electric vehicle charging points should increase the number of electric vehicles in the City.

In discussion about the possible connection between poor air quality and Covid-19 Cllr Hayes said an emerging research base was looking at the links between Covid-19 and air quality.  It was however prudent to wait until there could be complete  confidence in the research base before making that explicit connection, despite the increasing likelihood that there was one.

Cllr Hayes noted that at a time of financial pressure decisions had yet to be made about the allocation of funding to support implementation of measures in the AQAP. At the same time it was important to  remember that the Council had been very successful in drawing in a considerable amount of external Government funding for a wide range of projects, not least because the Council had established itself as a “can do”  authority that “got things done.”  Other bids were in train, including one for  significant funding for the “all-electric bus town” scheme for which the Council was a serious contender.

It was agreed that improved/safer cycling opportunities in the City (eg the introduction of a “Dutch style roundabout” in St Clements) would, collectively, contribute to improved air quality. In relation to St Clements in particular Cllr Hayes noted that there had until recently been a St Clements Air Quality Working Group involving both City and County representatives which had been set up for the express purpose of seeing what could be done to address the matter of air pollution in St Clements. This had resulted in a series of actions, including increased monitoring, which had, broadly, been implemented. Notwithstanding what had been done, it would be the introduction of low and zero emission buses which would make a material improvement and, finally, see air pollution in the area reach an acceptable legal level. A reduction in vehicle use in the City, particularly around St Clements, as well as reducing pollution levels would also offer the opportunity to reallocate the road space to cyclists.

It was recognised that the Council’s monitoring of air quality was constrained to some extent by the number (75) of monitoring devices available. Monitoring generally focused on places with high levels of vehicle movements and or footfall. The monitoring sites were reviewed every 2-3 years and moved to a new location if the air quality was well within the legal limits. The team was open to suggestions from members of the public or councillors for new locations. It was noted that the consequences of Covid-19 on air quality (atypical transport patterns for example) would make it difficult to make robust conclusions about pollution levels on the basis of recent monitoring and that therefore this year’s new monitoring locations would not be moved or changed in the future monitoring campaign of 2021.

In relation to the Cutteslowe/Wolvercote roundabout and anticipated developments there, the AQAP recognised the area as one of four “hot spots”  which demanded and would receive  particular attention from an air quality monitoring point  of view. It was noted that the new developments in the area included air monitoring assessments as part of the planning process.

Given the basic criteria for locating a monitoring device, some parts of the City with some residents more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality for socio-economic reasons, were not, therefore, necessarily monitored.  Cllr Hayes said that a new monitoring device had recently been located in Blackbird Leys and its future there would take account of the contextual factors of its location and not simply the measured air quality.

The Council had recently involved local primary schools in competition to design a clean air/anti idling banner to mark Clean Air Day. A small number of these banners were now available for any school to display outside their front gates to promote sustainable transport.

The Chair thanked Cllr Hayes and the officer  for this update on progress with this important matter.


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